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While composers like Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber still hold dominion over West End musicals in the public eye – particularly with televised cast auditions for shows like the Wizard of Oz providing a prime time advertising campaign for that traditional brand of musical – the more down-to-earth alternative of the classic rock opera is still a mainstay of the stage.
While it’s unlikely you’ll see rock operas attracting sell-out crowds at mainstream venues such as the London Palladium, this ever-popular brand of musical is still a firm favourite of audiences who know how to look beyond the glitz and find musicals that really rock. One place they can reliably turn is Broadway.
Indeed, all four ‘best musical’ nominees for this year’s Tony Awards, the prestigious accolade of American theatre, are fundamentally rock operas, though with varying degrees of integrity and acceptance by traditional rock fans. The Green Day inspired American Idiot and the Afrobeat of Fela! are up against Memphis and Million Dollar Quartet, both of which look back to the golden age of rock and roll. It’s a theatrical battle of the bands that is sending out a clear message to theatre-goers and producers alike – the rock musical is far from dead.
While rock musicals have often faced criticism for failing to live up to the ideal of a traditional rock concert, the best don’t simply aim to transfer the live music experience to the stage, but will involve an intriguing and electrifying plot that captures the spirit and attitude conveyed by the music, though this can be a challenge to pull off expertly.
Some overcome these teething problems by seeking creative ways to break down the barriers of the accepted musical form. One case in point is the classic rock opera Hair, now enjoying a new lease of life at London’s Gielgud Theatre, which involves the audience directly and still has much of the anarchic energy that made it such a controversial hit during its original run.
Others are less successful in making the transition from best-selling album to stage, something that is arguably the case with American Idiot, which Green Day fans have argued was already ‘complete’ in its original CD form. By weaving a story through songs and lyrics, songwriters don’t even require a stage to tell their musical stories, but can let it play out in the minds of their fans.
This may be one reason why so many fans of musicals seek to relive their audience experience soon after attending shows with the help of online music streaming, and it is the mark of an effective musical that the songs remain fresh and engaging even when the choreography and costumes are stripped away.
Learn more about online music streaming. Adam Singleton writes for a digital marketing agency. This article has been commissioned by a client of said agency. This article is not designed to promote, but should be considered professional content.